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Ecommerce Holiday Sales Tips

Holiday Ecommerce TipsMartin’s Top 5 Holiday Ecommerce Sales Tips
Less than 30 days from Cyber Monday, the Monday after Thanksgiving and one of the biggest online sales days of the year,  it feels appropriate to share Five Ecommerce Sales Building Tips. My bona fides is growing topline and bottom line sales every year for seven years at a multimillion-dollar ecommerce site from 2003 to 2010. Here are a few tips my team and I learned during seven years of trench holiday ecommerce warfare:

Holiday Ecommerce Tip 1: Email More
A magical thing happens every year after Halloween. Traffic and visitors turn into shoppers. Change expressed itself in web analytics in several ways. Sales from our most profitable channel, email marketing, increased along with opens and clickthroughs. Number of visits over sales goes down (you want this number to go down since it means more people are buying faster). In the summer people might visit three or four times before buying. In November average visits before purchase are half with a larger group of customers buying on one visit especially if your special is great, time stamped and on a HOT product. Make the right offer at this time of year and people BUY NOW.

Everyone worries about email unsubscribe trends when you mail more frequently. We managed a list of 60,000 and never exceeded 1% unsubscribes no matter how often we mailed. We mailed almost daily in November and at least daily in December. When you mail that often your aggregate unsubscribes, the real number of people leaving your list, is going up but new people are coming on fast too. I always felt unsubscribes vs. new was a wash at this time of year.

Emailing more means you need more and better creative. Use the season’s natural rhythm and timing to help. Start your “pre-Holiday Sale” on 11.1 and end it a few days before Thanksgiving. People travel on Thanksgiving so the five days before are throw away. End your pre-holiday sale five days out from Thanksgiving (say on the previous Friday or so). Set up a cool little interim sale to end on Thanksgiving day. This gives you a “last day” offer on Thanksgiving when site traffic will be low. Don’t waste a great offer then. My direct marketing boss taught me the “best offers, best times of year” rule and Thanksgiving day isn’t one of them so don’t waste the bullet.

Black Friday, the Friday AFTER Thanksgiving is another story. Some ecommerce sites create a one day only Black Friday deal flow with timed sequences (early bird, middle of the day and almost done). If you have a large Internet marketing team that kind of creative works. My little 3-person team and I created Black Friday sales that ended on Sunday night giving way to one day only Cyber Monday offer that was among the best of the season. You want to shoot LARGE bullets on Black Friday and Cyber Monday because they set a tone for the entire holiday sales season. If you have the best offer on either day your traffic will be supported by thousands of Facebook links, Tweets and mobile emails so go all out on those two days despite the noise.

Each day from 11.1 to about 12.20 needs careful choreography with Fast, Medium and Slow contingencies. If the holiday sales season is robust stay with FAST. If things are slow up the ante and throw in your bench offers. As my P&G boss taught, pre-planning prevents piss poor performance – never more true than ecommerce during November and December. Leave room for what is happening, don’t over plan, but be sure to create a flexible ecommerce strategy for the major touch points of the holiday sales season.

Holiday Ecommere Tip 2: More Promotional Social Media
If you’ve been a good curator the rest of the year by sharing great links and mentioning helpful articles the fourth quarter is when your harvest good will by increasing your Tweet frequency to at least 1x per hour (use a tool like Bufferapp to help schedule Tweets ahead making sure to leave room for reactions and thank you you tweets). Putt new content on Facebook at least 1x a day and 3x isn’t out of the question. Facebook should be able to feed itself with customers talking to each other. Make sure and post clear Facebook guidelines and monitor the heck out of it.

Facebook is the cocktail party the night before the big sale. Arm your guests with plenty to talk about and be specific. If your sale is breaking records, and you always should be, in discount levels or numbers of items on sale lead with that headline. If you are being helped by customer feedback share it and ask for more. Create special Facebook and Twitter only deals and links to reinforce the tribal nature of both spaces. Give “Friend” or “Supporter” codes in Facebook. Give hair curling discounts on Twitter. Ask for feedback. Ask for feedback and ask for feedback. If you get stumped on what to put on sale create a poll on Facebook and in your email. Be prepared to do whatever the poll tells you since there is nothing worse than asking for input and then not taking it.

Holiday Ecommerce Tip 3: Create A Flexible Promotion Calendar With Free Shipping
Choreography is so critical at this time of year, but you don’t know how things are going to shake out. Expect Free Shipping to be the cost of holiday sales ecommerce poker, but experiment with triggers such as Free Shipping on purchases over $50. $50 may be a reach at other times of the year but low for your business during the Holidays. I’ve done a lot of Free Shipping testing and my best advice is put Free Shipping on all orders starting, at the latest, 11.1. You will reward some who would have reached to make a trigger, but I NEVER saw a free shipping trigger we didn’t beat by at least 50%. If we said “Free Shipping For Purchases Over $50” then our average would go to $90. Once the shipping concern is over people BUY and that is what you want at this time of year. Don’t fall over the $1,000 bills to pick up nickels and dimes just GO, GO, GO.

Holiday Shipping Calendars = Very Important
Be sure to add a Holiday Shipping calendar feature no latter than 11.1. People forget how close Holiday dates are and how long it takes to get stuff. They expect what they are thinking about to be on their porch tomorrow. Gently reminding your customers of your picking and packing schedules, days your staff is off and weather contingencies are a great way to create holiday deadlines, deadlines that reinforce your merchandising. I’m a strong believer in DEADLINES. Our rhythm was to alert customers to a sale (email #1), highlight things popping in the sale and provide alerts to any out-of-stocks on the horizon (email #2), warn about the sale ending (email #3), last warning usually the day or Friday before a Monday close (email #4) and then last day (email #5). Sometimes we cut out the middle and went with “SALE IS HERE”, “SALE IS ALMOST OVER” AND “SALE IS OVER”. You see this language every stroll through any mall in America this time of year for a reason – IT WORKS. Deadlines force action and this time of year is rife with deadlines (Thank God).

Holiday Ecommerce Tip 4: Mobile Commerce
There is one exception to my “never greater than 1%” email unsubscribe rule – not sniffing and sending properly formatted mobile emails. A sniffer is a piece of code that knows the platform about to receive an email. Sniffers are very important since much of your list, possibly unknown to you, receive your emails on cell phones, iPhones, iPads or BlackBerries. Sending poorly formatted emails to mobile bumps unsubscribes well above 1%.

Your ecommerce site also looks untrustworthy when you aren’t sophisticated enough to sniff so you damage your main site in incalculable ways. Add a sniffer or pay someone to do it for you and make sure you are sniffing before you mail your next email.

Email marketing should be mobile-friendly anyway. If you have 100 words of copy on an email at this time of year you should be shot. Great subject lines, less than 20 words total text (include any text in images), large calls to action and no more than ten link points (and less than 7 is better) should be the kinds of billboard-y emails you create at this time of year. Your customers should see a compelling image, decide between a few Calls To Action, read a little story and then get out of the way. Those kinds of emails play well on any device. Hemingway won a drinking game once when challenged to tell a complete story in six words. His story was, “Baby shoes, hardly worn, for sale.” Telling complete stories in as few words as possible this time of year is an e-commerce MUST.

I didn’t cover list segmentation in Tip 1 because if you aren’t segmenting already don’t even try now. Blast away and work on segmentation in January (or March if Valentine’s day looms large for your business). Segmenting is the real gold of email marketing (and all Internet marketing if you ask me) and we will be sharing tips on how to segment customers soon. Don’t attempt to create segmentation during the holidays, keep your emails design mobile-friendly and use a sniffer.

Holiday Ecommerce Tip 5: Metrics And Web Analytics
Key Performance Indicators and web analytics are never more important than right now (during the holiday sales period from Back To School in September through Valentine’s Day in February). I lowered my “deep dive” criteria starting about now (Halloween) from a + or – 5% standard KPI deviation to less than 2%. The crucial idea, and one I can’t emphasize enough, is you must watch positive and negative trends. “Positive trends are all good,” you may incorrectly be thinking. One year a competitor started a Google storm, spamming tweets from the third world, at this time of year trying to take our site out of the Google game by Christmas.

We saw the storm because we were +10% over our traffic KPI while conversions didn’t move. If we sat back and were happy about the attack (it would have been easy to make such an incorrect assumption) we couldn’t have reported the links as spam and the damage would have been worse (it still hurt). Watch anything + or – 2% in your top 5 KPI’s at this time of year. When you see something out of the norm dive and find out why immediately since time is truly of the essence.

Holiday web metrics are also different. Not only do people get serious about buying they want shorter and sharper paths to popular products. Refine your merchandising emphasizing the 20% of stuff controlling 80% of your gross sales. Create special landing pages from your internal search tool (this is the time of year an Enedca or Fast Search really earns their money). Remember to keep Google’s spider OUT of your seasonal landing pages to avoid duplicate content penalties. Watch for trends like a hawk watching a field for dinner. When you see a little known product pop, have sales greater than 2% above expectation, feed it with better placement in search, advertise the product on interior banners, feature the hot product on your site and mention the trend in an email. Anything popping above 15% should be on your home page until it calms down. If it doesn’t calm down figure a way to increase its real estate on your home page and consider creating a special landing environment (several pages of content all dedicated to the HOT item).

Put BUY NOW buttons on anything and everything you do at this time of year. Favor buy now over “READ MORE”, “LEARN MORE” and other less forceful CTA’s (calls to action).

See the immediacy of what is happening at this time of year? Planning everything to the nth degree online is crazy. Plan 25% of your promotions, let your traffic determine another 25% and then react 50% of the time. Over planning kills your ability to feed or put out fires. How to know what fires to feed and the ones to put out is another post for another time, today just focus on creating a flexible merchandising plan and watch your site’s Key Performance Indicator numbers like a hawk on a wire.


I’ve lived through and can share the stories of seven holiday sales seasons working on a B2C web site (B2B has seasonality too but that is for another post). Our site made more money each holiday than the one before even as doing so became harder each year. We got better at the special frenzy that is this time of year. I never felt more alive, challenged or exhausted by my birthday (New Year’s Day). Ecommerce at this time of year is about as much fun as you can have without riding a bicycle across America (and I’ve done both :), so enjoy and let us know if we can help in any way.


Martin Smith
Director of Marketing
Atlantic BT

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